PARIS — Kim Jones is hitting Miami with his Dior pre-fall men’s collection as the city gears up for Art Basel Miami Beach, a highlight of the year for artists and collectors. But the designer is breaking with recent tradition by collaborating not with a fine artist, but a man equally famous for his distinctive penmanship: Shawn Stussy.
The founder of the Stüssy brand, whose signature first appeared on his handcrafted surfboards before becoming one of the world’s most recognizable clothing logos, has been largely absent from the fashion scene since leaving the brand in 1996, with the exception of a brief return under the S/Double label a few years ago.
But Jones, a fan since his teenage years, had no trouble coaxing the streetwear pioneer out of retirement.
“There wasn’t much luring,” Stussy said at Dior’s headquarters in Paris. “I was just in a good place in my adventure, and he’s in a good place, and the stars just seemed to kind of line up. And if I’m going to come out for a last hurrah, why not with Dior? That’s the way I look at it. It’s the very top of the top. I have nothing but respect.”
The feeling is mutual. Jones discovered Stussy’s work around age 14 and would buy the clothes directly from a friend of his sister’s who worked at Gimme 5, the distribution company that introduced brands like Stüssy, A Bathing Ape and Supreme to the U.K. market.
“I used to wear it head-to-toe all the time in my teens. It was something I was really, really, really obsessed by,” he recalled, joining the conversation by telephone from London. In the meantime, Jones has amassed quite a collection of original Stüssy designs as part of his sprawling clothing archive. “I’ve got boxes of it,” he said.
That’s why it seemed logical to bring Stussy on board after previous collaborations with artists like Kaws, Hajime Sorayama, Raymond Pettibon and Daniel Arsham — a practice that Jones has linked to house founder Christian Dior’s early career as a gallerist.
The show will be held in a space across the street from the new Rubell Museum of contemporary art on the eve of its official opening to the public. The space is also owned by the Rubells.
“For me to work with someone like Shawn is a real honor. He’s an artist, that’s the thing. If you can work that line like that, and it’s that memorable, it’s like an artist. That’s why I wanted to do it with him: he’s made an iconic image with his hand,” said Jones.
The two were introduced by Fraser Cooke, who as senior director, global influencer marketing special projects at Nike has been behind the sportswear giant’s hottest collaborations, reeling in designers including Rei Kawakubo, Virgil Abloh and Jones himself.
“I used to be his shop boy when he ran The Hideout in London. We’ve been friends for years and years. I was just thinking, I wanted to look at Shawn as an artist, because every kid I know knows how to fake his signature, so to speak, because we used to do it on our schoolbooks,” Jones explained.
Beyond the Stüssy brand logo, Stussy applied his singular handwriting to early ads for the label in magazines like Thrasher. Speech bubbles featured captions such as: “International Stüssy tribe sez you betta enjoy yourself…” or “Stay afloat on the reality boat!! Live clean…live large!!”
His loopy, embellished lettering has since given birth to its own font, and formed the basis for his modern-day interpretation of Dior, rooted in beach culture.
“I did all my artwork in black-and-white and turned it in, and then the team colored it — they knew what the seasonal colors were. So it’s been really nice for me to hand off my stuff to somebody else and watch it go off to school, because I did everything before,” Stussy said.
Jones and his team were inspired by the “tutti frutti” colors of Miami’s Art Deco architecture, and the Dior archives of the early Sixties. “Some of the prints are quite psychedelic, so they fit with the time and the era,” the designer said, noting that the beaded shirts required 2,600 hours of embroidery.
Some prints were made in Japan via a unique technique that uses color pastes mixed together and manipulated to create marble-like patterns. “That printing is exceptionally complicated to do. And it means that the product we do with that particular printing is a very limited product because it takes so much time,” said Jones.
“That’s what intrigued me, is when he started talking about taking my kind of iconic art work and putting it into these couture methods,” Stussy interjected. “I have zero interest in going and printing some $40 T-shirts, but to do this was really an eye opener.”
Jones noted that when the collection goes on sale in 2020, it will be 40 years since Stussy launched his brand, marking the beginning of the modern streetwear movement, though both men detest the term. “I get a rash if you use that around me,” Stussy growled.
In the last decade, the subculture has erupted into the mainstream, with Jones opening the luxury doors to sportswear with his 2017 collaboration with Supreme, while head of men’s wear design at Louis Vuitton. The trend shows no sign of waning, with Prada recently unveiling a long-term collaboration with Adidas.
Once at the red-hot center of the scene, Stussy has watched developments like the sale of a 50 percent stake in Supreme, founded by his friend and former business partner James Jebbia, to private equity giant Carlyle in 2017. The deal valued the brand, which has fueled the luxury industry’s appetite for limited-edition drops, at $1 billion.
“It’s been interesting for me to see the full circle and to watch the last 20 years as an outsider,” said Stussy, who spends part of the year in Hawaii and also has a home in Guéthary on France’s Atlantic coast, another haven for surfers.
“Because I mean for us, we were basically taking the p–s out of it. We were hip-hop kids. We were like from the gutter, we felt, and it was actually making fun of — not fun — but it was pulling the strings on luxury,” he explained.
“When hip-hop was starting, people were going uptown and you know, Eric B. and Rakim getting the suits made up at Dapper Dan’s with the fake Louis Vuitton and everything, so it was a real moment. Just to see it circle back to where it is now is interesting for me,” he remarked.
Stussy, who described himself as a keen shopper, said he was drawn to the Dior brand and impressed by the strong team that Jones has assembled, comparing it to a family.
“I’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of things, and I was just waiting for the right one, and this just feels really good in that respect. I almost feel like I’m handing the wand off to the young crowd, Kim being the team captain, and he’s a lover of the game, he’s knowledgeable, he’s a student of our culture. I just really get the right feel,” he said.
Jones said while he admired Stussy for stepping away from his business to focus on his family and passion projects, the entrepreneur has lost nothing of his edge.
“Shawn’s energy is so youthful. He’s an OG, but he’s like one of us as well. He’s got the energy of a 30-year-old and I think that’s really amazing. When he comes in the room, everyone’s really excited to have him around,” he said. “He’s influenced a huge generation of people to get up and do things and make things.”
Stussy downplayed his status in the hypebeast community. “I don’t or I can’t think about that. I was just at a time in the world when it all worked out. I don’t put a big emphasis on it myself. If I start thinking about it that way, I’m screwed,” he said with a laugh.
Still, he’s enjoying his moment back in the spotlight. “I’m super flattered to be in the mix right now, too. I mean, it’s been 20 years, you know, and this has been really fun for me,” he said.
While he has no plans to return to the industry, Stussy would not rule it out entirely. “I can’t change back to what I used to do,” he said. “I’m happy with this right now. But I’m always a dreamer. I dream, so I take nothing off the table.”